New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 7th November, 2017
Ira Levin’s classic thriller is doing the rounds in this effective new production, featuring two escapees from Albert Square, namely Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace as husband and wife. He is a playwright who hasn’t had a hit for a few years; she is the supportive wife with a weak constitution, who has been funding their life together in their smart little barn conversion in the woods… Along comes bright young thing Sam Phillips with an idea for a new play, and the scene is set for double-crosses, shocks and surprises.
Levin’s script is clever, laced with sarcastic wit and tell-tale details – if you know what to look for. I’ve seen the play before so I knew all its secrets going in but director Adam Penford manages the twists and turns, changes of pace, the violence and the laughs with skill, providing a few jump scares along the way.
Paul Bradley dominates as the desperate and overbearing Sidney, while Jessie Wallace, unusually dowdy in her frumpy beige cardigan and not a hint of leopard print for miles, gives a restrained performance as Myra with the dodgy ticker. Sam Phillips’s Clifford brings energy and good looks, and there is a wild comic cameo from Beverley Klein as visiting Swedish psychic, Helga ten Dorp. Julien Ball completes the quintet as Sidney’s smooth attorney, Porter Milgrim.
Morgan Large’s attractive, rustic set bedecked with a range of vicious weapons gives the action its arena but at times Ben and Max Ringham’s music is a little heavy-handed. Moments of violence are underscored for added atmosphere, heightening the emotion but lessening its realism.
It’s a play that deconstructs itself as it plays out. The characters discuss the elements of a stage thriller before and after we see them enacted within the plot, and it is this knowingness that makes Levin’s piece a classic of the genre. A similar approach was adopted much later by horror film Scream. But like all thrillers, it’s about not-particularly-nice people doing despicable things for (usually) financial gain. Unusually, there is no detective to wheedle out the truth – a different comeuppance awaits these plotters…
This is a solid production, well played and engaging. A darkly delicious way to spend an evening.
Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace host a cardigan festival
Leave a comment | tags: Adam Penford, Ben and Max Ringham, Beverley Klein, Deathtrap, Ira Levine, Jessie Wallace, Julien Ball, Morgan Large, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Paul Bradley, review, Sam Phillips, thriller | posted in Theatre Review
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 24th October, 2016
“On December 4, 1956, one man brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to play together for the first and only time. His name was Sam Phillips… the place was Sun Records… That night they made rock ‘n’ roll history.”
The above caption sets the scene for a dramatic reconstruction of that historic meeting and an excuse to play a lot of old songs! Set in the recording studio in which the aforementioned artistes cut their first hits, the play is a jukebox musical of sorts, as well as a biography. Above all, it’s a tribute concert to four icons of American popular music.
Jason Donovan is Phillips, our narrator – since when is pop heartthrob Donovan the senior member of any cast?! Where does the time go?! – and as he welcomes the men back to Sun Records, he shows us, in brief flashback scenes how he first encountered each one. Donovan’s Dukes of Hazzard accent is in keeping with the setting and he still looks great. He doesn’t get to sing, though.
We meet Jerry Lee Lewis, a young and talented piano player and something of a loudmouth. Martin Kaye dazzles with his piano-playing and amuses with his irrepressible characterisation. Lewis rubs Carl Perkins (Matthew Wycliffe) up the wrong way, giving rise to most of the tension of the piece – and also a good deal of the humour in the form of some ‘banterous’ put-downs from both parties. Wycliffe is absolutely excellent as Perkins, and he can’t half play a mean gee-tah. Robbie Durham’s Johnny Cash brings a deeper voice to the ensemble and Ross William Wild’s Elvis Presley is vocally outstanding. The hits keep coming: Blue Suede Shoes, Great Balls of Fire – but a standout moment for me is when Elvis’s girlfriend of the time, Dyanne (Katie Ray) treats us to a rendition of Peggy Lee’s Fever.
The plot is wafer-thin and the script, riddled with funny lines, is peppered with nostalgic references (back when gas was 25 cents) and dramatic irony (we know Elvis will return to Vegas). It’s also rather poignant when the foursome pose for the famous snapshot – we know what’s ahead for them, the tragedies that await them as well as their successes.
Supported by James Swinnerton on bass and Ben Cullingworth on drums, the cast, playing and singing live, generate a lot of energy that proves irresistible. It’s a feel-good show that gets your toes tapping from the get-go and dancing along before the finish. Each of the four stars is superbly represented by this talented cast, who create an authentic sound and remind us why rock ‘n’ roll was such a revolutionary sound when it first emerged.
Keep your feet off his footwear: Matthew Wycliffe as Carl ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ Perkins
Leave a comment | tags: Ben Cullingworth, Birmingham Hippodrome, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, James Swinnerton, Jason Donovan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Katie Ray, Martin Kaye, Matthew Wycliffe, Million Dollar Quartet, review, Robbie Durham, Ross William Wild, Sam Phillips | posted in Theatre Review